What it takes to be a leader

7th January 2005 at 00:00
The MORI finding this week that 95 per cent of today's business leaders were yesterday's head girls and boys throws a new light on old debates about inherent skills and the hidden curriculum, on the benefits or otherwise of conformity and perhaps even on the appointment of yet another chief education officer to run the National College for School Leadership.

First, the captains of industry's pubescent talents: were these really so unerringly spotted by their teachers? Or did those chosen to be pupil officials enjoy benefits that developed the skills, confidence and self-belief that enabled them to rise to the top?

The answer is almost certainly to do with both nature and nurture. Schools do not select peer leaders at random. They are most likely to promote the articulate and conformist, who then further develop the sort of leadership and social skills which can be even more important in business than academic qualifications.

Many of the qualities schools pick up on in appointing pupil leaders are socially determined - that is, influenced by family and upbringing. The resulting opportunities are unlikely to be equally distributed.

In the formal academic curriculum, schools are urged to reduce the influence of race, gender and class to give a fairer chance to all. Yet the more they succeed in increasing the number of well-qualified school-leavers, the less easy it becomes for universities and employers to choose between them - and the more significant attainment on the informal curriculum becomes.

Schools cannot, of course, undo accidents of birth by discriminating against the advantaged. But to counter disadvantage, they must do more than raise their test and exam scores. They also need to encourage a wide range of personal skills in and out of the classroom for all pupils - not just those who seem to be natural leaders. Who says anyway that today's top businessmen are the right ones? As entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson show, conformity in school or elsewhere is not necessarily what matters most.

Which brings us to Mr Stephen Munby, director designate of the NCSL and the director of education for Knowsley, an authority in which government reforms have been enthusiastically applied.

Former education secretary Charles Clarke told education authorities recently that their job now was to act as agents for central Government.

The Department for Education and Skills, meanwhile, made it clear in a recent review that it now wants the college's goals even more closely aligned with its own.

Mr Munby is not and never has been a headteacher, though he was once a prefect. All three candidates on the final shortlist for his new job were chief education officers, as was the previous incumbent in the post - and the man chosen by the National Association of Head Teachers' executive last month to lead it in the future. Is that the conformity we now need?

It seems that never having led a school is emerging as a prime requirement for the job of overseeing the support and training of those who do.

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